What makes him tick? As we approach the final major of the season, my intrigue continues to grow with his amazing success. He is extraordinary in the big events but rather ordinary in the regular tour stops. How does he turn on the mental supercharger for the majors? Few athletes in history have been able to turn it on in big events to the same extent. Great golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods demonstrated fantastic ability to concentrate, but their performance was more evenly distributed across all their events.
Sports fans old enough to remember the Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, recall Riggo hated to practice and almost never did. He was often in the hospital injured during the week, or out carousing and making trouble, but come game day, he could turn on an amazing level of focus and concentration and performed brilliantly. Football is a sport where you are very dependent on the performance of others. Golf is not. Koepka has no offensive line to run behind which makes his majors performances even more remarkable.
In perhaps his greatest book on sports psychology (How Champions Think), Bob Rotella sites “single-mindedness” as the most important key. The greats demonstrate it time and again and sometimes at the cost of other important aspects in their lives. Tiger certainly had single-mindedness and learned it from his dad. Maybe his personal failings later in life were a cry for help due to the strains of single-mindedness at an early age. Michele Wie’s parents tried to enforce single-mindedness before she was ready and may have ruined a great golf career.
Koepka doesn’t appear to be single-minded at all. He doesn’t sweat the majors any more than you or I would going to an important meeting at the office. He does abide by a corny half-baked idea that it’s easier to win the majors because he has fewer opponents that will be in contention for a variety of reasons. Does that really work; can you trick yourself into performing better by simply believing you are superior? For example, could your son or daughter excel in an important event like taking the SAT and expect superlative performance by thinking half the other students in the class will choke under the pressure? There may be some truth to it.
More importantly, is there something we (the average amateur) can adopt from his approach that will help our games? Think back to a time when you put on a great performance for a big event. A couple months back, I presented at a professional conference and was rather nervous at the thought of getting up in front of my peers for an hour. What if I stumbled or said something stupid? But, I nailed the presentation. How? I practiced the heck out of it until I was so sick of it I could do it forwards and backwards. On a few occasions, I’ve been able to mentally trick myself into performing better on the golf course by playing without any swing thoughts, but that doesn’t sustain for more than a few holes. The only tried and true method I’ve found is consistent practice, but it’s important to get feedback from someone other than yourself during the practice. I did that presentation alone and for family members and got constructive feedback that made it better.
So next time you’re on the practice tee or working short game, ask for feedback. In the best case, get it from a professional instructor. Learn the right way and practice.
And yes, Brooks Koepka is my pick for the 2019 British Open. I’ll ride him until he bucks me off.